Hoosiers’ final exam beginning a month early

Indiana head coach Tom Crean yells instructions to his players during the first half against Minnesota on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Indiana won, 70-63. (David Joles/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

By Dan Escalona

Tweet: Indiana, the time for the reality check has arrived, writes Dan Escalona

The Indiana Hoosiers have piled up breezy victories over mid-majors and Big Ten bottom feeders in the same way many of us students begin the semester piling up points on extra credit and freebie homework assignments.

In the same way college students inflate their early-semester grades with gimme-points, Indiana has inflated its record with a weak strength of schedule. Rarely does this prepare anyone for the bruising exams and projects that lie in wait by semester’s end.

After a rather easy start to the conference season, it’s time for the Hoosiers to start cramming before finals arrive in March.

Indiana has rocketed off to a 9-2 start inside the conference, holding serve in third place behind Iowa and Maryland. Through 24 games, the Hoosiers are two games better than their record at this point last season.

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None of their nine Big Ten victories are over any teams ranked in the top 25 in either the AP poll or in the RPI rankings. Indiana’s best conference win last week on the road against the Michigan team that ranks 55th in the RPI, which also happened to be the game when the Hoosiers happened to go on an inexplicable 25-0 run to end the first half.

The first of their losses was nothing to gripe about as it came in overtime against a rebuilding, yet nonetheless gritty Wisconsin squad.

Their second loss — and the much more concerning one — came Saturday versus a woeful Penn State team. Yes, you can count this as a classic road trap game against an inferior team with Indiana looking forward to taking on Iowa in Bloomington on Thursday but that’s just an empty excuse.

The same team that blitzed Illinois by 33 points just two weeks earlier somehow still can’t muster enough energy to take care of business against a team with only three conference wins.

This latest setback for the Hoosiers might just be enough to expose the façade that Tom Crean’s team is not much of the success this season upon.

With a strength of schedule ranking of 135, the Hoosiers have played the weakest schedule in the Big Ten. Their nonconference schedule wasn’t much to brag about either, as Indiana’s best loss was against Duke a team that has recently gone on drop out of the top 25. To be fair, they did claim decent victories over Notre Dame and Creighton.

Beginning Thursday, though, the Hoosiers will have to contend with the Great-Wave-off-Kanagawa portion of their schedule.

Before Indiana can even think about the Big Ten tournament or Selection Sunday, they’ll have to finish at the very least at .500 as they face off with Iowa twice, Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue.

Though much of it has come against inferior competition, the offensive production Indiana boasts is reason enough to believe that it can navigate its difficult schedule the rest of the way.

Led by the explosive Yogi Farrell, Indiana has four players all averaging over 12 points per game.

The Hoosiers currently ranked fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency, fifth in average scoring margin and eighth in points per game. Indiana leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage.

The team is also improved tremendously on the defensive end over where they were last season. The Hoosiers ranked 275th in the NCAA in defensive efficiency last year, which played a major role in their 3-6 record in the regular season and a first round exit in the tournament against Wichita State.

The vast improvement of the Indiana defense from a season ago — they now rank 55th — is another reason for Hoosier fans to at least have some hope that the team will avoid a similar debacle.

Indiana’s offensive prowess and defensive improvement may have come against an incredibly weak schedule, but those strengths and improvements will now be tested.

This is the Big Ten after all, where end of semester curves are not accepted.

Dan is a senior in Media.

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